IN his first 93 games for Everton, Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored 17 goals. A respectable return for a versatile forward tasked often with either starting out wide or, even when deployed centrally, running the channels in pursuit of balls lofted towards the corners of the pitch.
A former England under-21 international, the 23-year-old was destined to be a useful squad member of a club desperate to elevate itself back into the upper echelon of English football, spending big on a multitude of forwards who’d keep him consigned to a stand-in role.
Last season, something changed. In his last 47 Everton appearances, Calvert-Lewin has scored 24 goals, including nine in just six outings since the 2020-21 campaign kicked off. The forward who rarely scored is now the striker who can’t stop.
And, called up to the England squad for October’s international fixtures, with manager Gareth Southgate unable to ignore such productivity, Calvert-Lewin is set to fulfil a destiny written of him from the moment his goal against Venezuela clinched the Under-20 World Cup for the Young Lions more than three years ago.
“I was aware more than anyone that I was putting in the work but maybe not getting the rewards,” Calvert-Lewin told The Athletic recently. “As a No 9 you’re judged on how many goals you’ve got at the end of the season. It doesn’t matter how well you play, that’s the thing.”
The Everton striker’s work rate has always been unimpeachable, a tireless runner, diligent in his off-the-ball defensive duties and selfless in the effort he put into any assigned role. The difference now, the key to his new-found ruthlessness, is that he is working tirelessly on moving less.
Calvert-Lewin’s game has long been defined by its simplicity. His work is rarely spectacular – although that too might be changing, judging by his stunning touch and finish against West Ham last month, the first strike of a hat-trick – but he is a sound, well-rounded technician, clean with his first touch and sharp in his distribution.
Through the leaps he has made since last term, Calvert-Lewin has maintained his stylistic simplicity – doubled down on it, even – as he has studied to master the subtle art of a striker’s movement. Where once he trudged miles for the cause, he now edges over inches, slips through centimetres, burst forward in short blasts or even, when the time calls, stays put.
“It’s all about being in the right position and that doesn’t come by accident,” he explained. “So for me it was about maintaining a consistent level of performance but adding the goals.”
Including caretaker bosses, Calvert-Lewin has worked under six managers since he was signed from Sheffield United in August 2016. It is no coincidence that the strides he has made have come largely since Carlo Ancelotti took charge at Goodison Park in December last year.
NINE goals in SIX games.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin cannot be stopped. pic.twitter.com/Qpq6dNR2vb
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 3, 2020
It’s difficult to imagine a better coach for eking every drop of potential from a player such as Calvert-Lewin, who already did so much so well but lacked a little direction and impetus, a final tweak. The laidback, straightforward approach of the two-time Champions League-winning manager jives with the striker’s low-frills, uncomplicated style.
“He has to stay close to the box because there he is really dangerous,” Ancelotti observed of Calvert-Lewin in January, advice that has clearly been communicated on the pitches of Everton’s Finch Farm training ground. The Italian manager has also compared the young forward to former AC Milan and Juventus poacher Pippo Inzaghi.
"That analogy from Carlo was more to put the emphasis on being in the right place at the right time, not that I'm a carbon copy of Pippo Inzaghi,” Calvert-Lewin said. "There are elements of his game that I've been showing in my game at the moment like one-touch finishes, just to put the ball in the back of the net."
Calvert-Lewin’s ability to narrow the focus of his movement to the confines of the penalty area has also been aided by those around him, particularly following the Everton’s transfer moves this summer. The added ballast in midfield of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan means the forwards can focus more on their attacking duties, and the creativity of James Rodriguez, an impressive £20m pick-up from Real Madrid, is any striker’s dream.
“He's transformed into a complete striker,” team-mate Richarlison said of Calvert-Lewin’s recent development. “I remember when I got here he was nothing like the player he is today. It's down to the work he's put in. He's in the gym every day, he's always working on his finishing.”
Now that he has cracked the senior England squad, the opportunity is there for Calvert-Lewin to stake a claim for the position of deputy to Harry Kane, a role of many contenders but, especially since Jamie Vardy’s international retirement, no one true occupant.
Among the current back-up centre-forward options at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, the Everton man’s non-penalty expected goals (NPxG) – the quality and quantity of the chances he generates, not including penalties – per 90 minutes since the start of last season (0.55) outstrips that of Southampton’s Danny Ings (0.45), and is only marginally shy of Tammy Abraham’s (0.59).
Interestingly, all three have a higher NPxG90 average than Kane (0.36) for this period.
Whether emulating Inzaghi or challenging Kane, with the progress Calvert-Lewin has made over the last 18 months, no goal seems out of reach.